This is my only political post. I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t post anything about who I voted for, or where I stood. That being said, I’ve noticed there is a lot of confusion about what the Electoral College is, and why it is important. I’ve even seen some links on Facebook for petitions to abolish the College.
Personally, I don’t know much about politics other than what is presented by the media. Even that, sometimes, is like weeding through fact and fiction. However, I’ve always been someone who tries to educate herself on the things I don’t know, so I can have a better understanding of what is going on in the world. And so, I’ve been doing some research, with the intention of presenting the importance of the College to those who may not understand why it is part of the election process.
*All of my sources will be listed below, and I encourage you, reader, to do your own further research.*
The Electoral College was originally drafted at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, after many other ideas had been thrown around. (This was just two years before George Washington became the first President of the United States, by the way.). The College was intended to “reconcile differing state and federal interests, provide a degree of popular participation in the election, give the less populous states some additional leverage in the process by providing “senatorial” electors, preserve the presidency as independent of Congress, and generally insulate the election process from political manipulation” (History). This was, and is, important because it allows the American people the ability to vote for President by creating a somewhat even playing field.
Who are the Electors? We can’t answer this question until we understand how the House and Senate are designed. The House of Representatives is comprised of representatives based on population, and are voted on by people in specific districts in each state. This is why California has 53 Representatives, and Wyoming only has 1. The Senate, on the other hand, has only two Senators per state, and are voted on by every person in the state, regardless of district. Now, the amount of Electors per state is dependent on each state’s representation in the federal government:
As you can see California, Texas, Illinois, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York have the greatest amount Electors. It should be no surprise, then, that these six states also have the highest population in the country. And because of their population, these states have a larger representation in the federal government.
According to the US Constitution, Electors are elected by each party, in each state, “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct “ (U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1). Electing the Electors is basically a two part process; first, “the political parties in each state choose slates of potential Electors sometime before the general election” (National Archives), and second, the general population votes for each candidate’s Electors during the general election.
The first part: This comes straight from the National Archives– “Generally, the parties either nominate slates of potential Electors at their state party conventions or they chose them by a vote of the party’s central committee. This happens in each state for each party by whatever rules the state party and (sometimes) the national party have for the process. This first part of the process results in each Presidential candidate having their own unique slate of potential Electors.”. So, to put this into terms for this past election: each state had two equal sets of Electors for both Trump and Clinton, decided by both political parties. Someone can be placed on their party’s slate if they are a state elected official, state party leader, or someone in the state who has a personal or political affiliation with the Presidential candidate for that party. It’s important to note that the Constitution clearly states that Electors may not be a Senator, a member of the House of Representatives, or someone holding an office of trust or profit under the United States (U.S. Constitution, Article II, section 1).
The second part: It’s a misconception that when we vote in the general election, we are voting directly for the President. In fact, we are voting for each candidate’s slate of Electors. The Electors are expected to then cast their vote for the candidate that is representing their political party. One of the major oppositions people have against the Electoral College is the possibility of a “faithless elector”. This is an Elector who doesn’t vote for the person from their party, instead voting for the other candidate. However, according to US Election Atlas:
Faithless Electors have never changed the outcome of an election, though, simply because most often their purpose is to make a statement rather than make a difference. That is to say, when the electoral vote outcome is so obviously going to be for one candidate or the other, an occasional Elector casts a vote for some personal favorite knowing full well that it will not make a difference in the result.
In the whole twentieth century, there have only been eight “faithless electors”. After the general election, on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, all of the Electors convene at their state’s capitol building to cast their votes, according to how the state voted. For example, the Republican Electors in Texas will convene at the Texas Capitol Building on December 19th to cast their votes for President and Vice President. The winning candidate must win at least 270 votes, as that is half the total amount of Electoral votes. An important stipulation from the Constitution states that the voters must for at least one candidate from another state.
After the results are calculated and endorsed, copies are sent to the President of the Senate, who is also the Vice President, along with other important state officials (History). Currently, the President of the Senate is Joe Biden.
Final step: The House of Representatives and the Senate will meet in a joint session on January 6, at 1:00 in the afternoon. There, the President of the Senate will read the results of the Electoral voting aloud, in alphabetical order. After the each result is read aloud, they are passed to four vote counters, with two picked from both the House and the Senate. After all of the Electoral results are counted, the President of the Senate announces the new President of the United States.
But what is the point? America is not a pure democracy. In fact, it is a constitutional federal republic. It is guided by the Constitution, has one central national government, and officials are voted for by the people. We are not a direct democracy, because we do not vote directly for the President. However, in other areas of government, such as state officials, Senators, and Representatives, we vote directly the person we want elected. No current country has a pure democracy, and those nations that did in history were complete and utter chaos. For example, if the US was to be completely democratic, the heavier populated states would outweigh the lesser populated states. This means the interest and beliefs of states like New York, would completely outweigh the interests and beliefs of states like Montana. The Electoral College is important because it forces candidates to campaign to the entire nation, instead of just to the heavily populated states.
There have been four elections in the past where the elected President won the Electoral vote, but not the popular vote. Also, looking forward to the December election, it is constitutionally possible for Hillary Clinton to win the Electoral vote. However, it should be noted that wanting to abolish the Electoral College is not a new idea in any means.
I wrote, and researched, this post because I myself didn’t know what the Electoral College truly was. I’ve learned a lot in writing this, and I’ve developed a better understanding of how our government works, and why the Electoral College is in place. This, however, is not meant to be a statement for or against the College. It is simply meant to be the facts. I hope you’re able to learn something from this, and that you have a better understanding of why our government works the way that it does.
*I found this video from Prager University interesting and easy to understand. It actually inspired me to do my own research.*
Ciao for now,
- The House of Representatives and the Senate
- Information on State Representatives
- National Archives
- US Election Atlas
- Fact Check
- United States Constitution (I have my own copy)